Food Predictions: The Good, the Preposterous, and the Dated

By Lady Bird December 24, 2009


Or, FoodNerd reads the critics' prognostications for 2010 so you don't have to.

The good (i.e., those predictions credible enough that they may actually prove true):

1. The reemergence of the local butcher. Not to be confused with the butcher-as-food-hottie (see below), this prediction holds that consumers, newly informed by labeling standards such as Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), will start demanding to know not only their meat producers but those who process it.

2. More street vendors, food trucks, sidewalk stalls, and other ways to eat "out" without having (or paying for) a full sit-down dining experience. In Seattle, as Capitol Hill Seattle reported on Dec. 19, that's already starting to happen, with new, less-onerous regulations in the works at City Hall, it should soon be much easier to operate a street business in Seattle—a welcome (and long-overdue) change.

3. Sustainability goes mainstream in a big way. Although I was tempted to include this in the "dated" category (thinking, for example, of all those "Walmart sells organics" stories from 2008), there's plenty of room for the sector to grow—not just organic and local, but humanely sourced, small-farm-produced, sold in environmentally friendly packaging, traded fairly.

4. More "food with benefits," AKA food with "healthy" ingredients added, like those yogurts that are supposed to fix women's apparently defective digestive systems. As much as I wish it wasn't so, I don't see these "value-added" (read: More expensive, no better for you than real food) products going away.

5. Reduced sodium. With NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg setting a goal of reducing New Yorkers' sodium intake by 20 percent in the next two years, sodium appears to be the latest nutritional bad guy. Governments, food companies, and retailers will lead, and consumers will follow.

6. Korean food. Oooh, I hope so!

The Unlikely:

1. More cooking from scratch, AKA "back to basics." Sure, we're all paupers now, but that doesn't mean we have more time on our hands. Instead of lovingly soaking heirloom beans, stirring bolognese for hours, or slaving over a hot paella pan, we're more likely to keep eating convenience foods while we look for jobs (or work longer hours than ever at the ones we have). Some folks will always have the time and inclination to garden, raise chickens, and cook meals from scratch (I'm one of them!) but until doing so seems more appealing (and less time-consuming) than cutting corners, convenience culture will have the day.

2. Bartering for food. Look, I love this idea—if I'm ever in England, I'm going to this restaurant—but the logistics behind trading skills for food, or produce for dinner, are simply too complicated to become a nationwide trend. On a small scale, though, if it's going to happen anywhere in the US, it'll be West Coast cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.

3. $20 "Upscale" fried chicken. Yes, yes, Thomas Keller's fried chicken night is famous. And yes, Momofuku is serving it. But in much of the country, fried chicken is something you buy in a plastic basket and eat on a picnic table. And really—unlike braises like pot a feu or even humble chicken cacciatore—it's hard to do much to good fried chicken other than, well, fry it.

4. Chain restaurants build better burgers. As evidenced by... the Denny's double cheeseburger and a half-pound Burger King monstrosity? Sorry, McDonald's can call it an "Angus third-pounder" if they want, but it's still a McDonald's burger.

5. Upscale vegetarian mains. Sorry, but in an era that (see above) purportedly worships the butcher (and when urbanites are paying rural residents for hunting lessons)

Tongue? Um, that's random. And a little... specific. The Unlikely (for one reason or another, I just don't buy that these are going to catch on):

The dated ("coming trends" that are already on their way out):

1. Cheap cuts of meat. As both home cooks and fine diners know, brisket, short ribs, trotters, and other tough, less "desirable" cuts of meat have been in vogue since before the beginning of the current recession. (See, for example, the current menus at Spring Hill, Matt's in the Market, Campagne... Sure, they offer the standard confit duck leg/ rib eye/ steak tartare, but they also offer things like pork hock, braised short ribs, and oily, once "undesirable" fish like catfish. While all those things may remain on menus in the coming year, they're hardly a new trend.

2. Butchers as the hot new celebrity chefs/back-to-the-land farmers. Butchers were "hot" in 2009. And 2008. And 2007. And  2006. They'll likely be "hot" again next year: They have tattoos, tend to be cocky young men, and they hack up meat for a living. What's not to like—now or in 5 more years?

3. Backyard beehives. Ditto.
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